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Vol. LXIV, No. 23
November 9, 2012
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Research Festival Celebrates 125 Years of Discovery

On the front page...

Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz participates in plenary session at Research Festival 2012.

Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz participates in plenary session at Research Festival 2012.

The 26th annual NIH Research Festival, held Oct. 9-12, was a moveable feast.

“Find out what is going on in this remarkable community,” NIH director Dr. Francis Collins advised attendees in opening remarks. “Here’s a chance to enlarge your circle.”

Nearly 6,000 scientists conduct research in NIH’s own laboratories, most of them on the Bethesda campus. As the showcase for the Intramural Research Program, the festival brings people together, invites speakers and students and celebrates science for 4 days in October. The effects last a good deal longer.

“I can tell you many stories about how this Research Festival has triggered many collaborations,” said Collins, introducing the quasquicentennial theme: “NIH at 125: Today’s Discoveries, Tomorrow’s Cures.”

The plenary session in Masur Auditorium opened with 3 “big vision” talks. NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons spoke on a systems approach to health inequities. Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz of NICHD addressed advances in technology and imaging and NIAID’s Dr. Ron Germain took the audience on a journey through the immune system.

Continued...

Then Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun (really NEI’s Dr. David Robinson) walked onstage, looking dapper and fit for a 152-year-old.

One of the fathers of modern bacteriology, Kinyoun (1860-1919) was the founder and first director of the Hygienic Laboratory, the predecessor of NIH. In a historical sketch, NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman updated the founder on advances in immunization, the eradication of smallpox and organ transplantation.

Opening day of Research Festival 2012 included a panel of longtime intramural scientists including (from l) NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz, NIAID’s Dr. William Paul, Dr. Judith Rapoport of NIMH and moderator Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research. NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons addresses the plenary session.
Opening day of Research Festival 2012 included a panel of longtime intramural scientists including (from l) NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz, NIAID’s Dr. William Paul, Dr. Judith Rapoport of NIMH and moderator Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research. NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons addresses the plenary session.


“This is part of your legacy,” he told Kinyoun/Robinson. “We are the fruit of your labor, and you are not forgotten.”

Concluding the session was a panel discussion with NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz, Dr. William Paul of NIAID and NIMH’s Dr. Judith Rapoport, moderated by Gottesman in the manner of public television’s Charlie Rose.

NEI’s Dr. David Robinson played the part of Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun during an “interview” with NIH’s founder.

NEI’s Dr. David Robinson played the part of Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun during an “interview” with NIH’s founder.

Why did they join the intramural program? Why did they stay?

“Over and over,” said Rapoport, “it’s been the sense of an imaginative, flexible and very empathic [intramural] administration—together with other things easing the road for clinical research—that has made it very hard to consider moving anywhere else.”

The action then moved to Natcher Bldg. for poster sessions, concurrent symposia and a talk by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a former NIH extramural grantee and principal investigator (see sidebar).

The festival also hosted the National Graduate Student Research Conference and the 2013 Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) award ceremony. This year, 224 FARE winners received travel awards to present their research at scientific meetings in the next fiscal year.

Also featured were exhibits on resources for intramural research (“Get your mercury-free thermometer!”) and the Technical Sales Association tent show, pitched under a bright autumn sky.

Other treats included the Bioviz exhibit with a theater screening short videos and a booth highlighting “Games4Science,” an IRP product created in response to a White House initiative.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md., second from l) participates in a panel discussion with (from l) Dr. Constantine Stratakis, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Anto Bonci.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md., second from l) participates in a panel discussion with (from l) Dr. Constantine Stratakis, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Anto Bonci.

Photos: Ernie Branson

The festival’s signature image was a mustardcolored MRSA—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—bursting out of a neutrophil.

Collins said Research Fesival has a history of enabling fresh scientific collaborations.

Collins said Research Fesival has a history of enabling fresh scientific collaborations.

The neutrophil, one of the body’s white blood cells, is a phagocyte—literally, an “eater cell”—that chases bacteria and then engulfs them. The typical neutrophil eats germs for breakfast. But MRSA, a difficult and dangerous bug, had left the defender in tatters.

Bacterial threats, as in Kinyoun’s era, are still with us today, but they arrive in new forms. Smallpox is gone, but challenging work lies before us.

“With the exception of what happens here day to day, this is the most important event at NIH,” said audience member Dr. Lena Diaw, an NHLBI contractor working on sickle cell disease. “The Research Festival: excellent science, excellent findings. I love it!”

For more information on the festival or to download The Indispensable Forgotten Man: Joseph James Kinyoun and the Founding of the National Institutes of Health, visit http://www.niaid.nih.gov/about/whoweare/history/josephjkinyoun/indispensableman/Pages/default.aspx.


Congressman/Researcher Visits Research Festival

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.)

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.)

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), the only member of Congress who has been a principal investigator on an NIH grant, visited Research Festival on Oct. 9 to offer his perspectives on science, politics and the current budget climate on Capitol Hill. His sobering advice to the audience, and to his host, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, is that evidence, so crucial to claims in science, is not nearly as esteemed in the world of lawmaking.

“I was a natural scientist,” said Harris, who is on leave from Johns Hopkins University, where he trained in surgery and anesthesia. “In my world, two plus two equals four. But that’s not the way it is in a legislative body.” Early in his career as a state senator, after witnessing a vote go completely counter to both his expectations and the evidence, Harris was counseled by an older peer, “There are 47 senators. Whatever 24 of them say on a given day is what’s right.”

The hour-long session was conducted as a panel moderated by festival chairs Dr. Constantine Stratakis of NICHD and Dr. Anto Bonci of NIDA, who asked both their own questions and those submitted by the audience. Asked to assess the attitude of his peers in Congress about the NIH budget, Harris was blunt: “To some people, it’s just another budget item. There are those who think maybe we’re spending too much now.”

Harris said many of his fellow lawmakers recall that NIH’s budget has more than doubled since the 1980s and feel no sense of urgency about a situation Collins summarized as 10 years of flat budgets, a 20 percent reduction in purchasing power and the dwindling of the success rate in winning NIH grants from 30 percent to 17 percent.

Urging NIH to be innovative in such an unreceptive budget climate, Harris touted an idea proposed by Newt Gingrich that has become part of a bill he co-sponsors: “Float separate Alzheimer’s disease bonds” to raise money specifically for AD research. “If we’re successful, it would be a huge savings to Medicare.” He compared the effort to the war bonds sold during World War II.

Harris described NIH as a model of efficiency and fairness in distributing funding. “When the government wants to work at how research should be done, you better look at NIH,” he said. The peer-review process used to award grants rinses politics out of decision-making, he argued. “NIH’s work is largely devoid of politics, but that’s not what you see in other government agencies.” Political appointees at the top of some agencies drive their science agenda, he said.

Harris said Congress must deal seriously with a $1.1 trillion budget deficit, but warned that sequestration, which Collins said would trim 8.2 percent from the NIH budget if it takes effect in January, is not the solution. “If that ever comes to pass,” Harris stated, “you better fire Congress for not doing the job we were elected to do.”

Harris said level funding, rather than a cut, represents a new goal for federal agencies. “That would be a victory,” he said. NIH has three strong advantages in reaching that goal, he added: Health is important to everyone, NIH has an appropriate federal role as the central authority in research-funding decisions and its method for making awards is apolitical.

Asked what parting advice he had for NIH, Harris responded, “Hang in there. The work you do represents the future, and it’s exciting.” He said he still looks forward to the arrival of new medical journals every month, with new findings. “You all are the best people in the world for doing that. Let us [politicians] worry about the nuts and bolts of the budget.”—Rich McManus


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